Back-to-back World Cups. That too in two different sports. How often does that happen? It doesn’t matter. Let’s sit back and enjoy the high-octane clashes of the best exponents of cricket and football.
Cricket comes up first with the T20 World Cup in Australia. The qualifiers begin on October 18 in Hobart and Geelong, where the UAE is jostling for a place in the Super 12s. Turning out for the UAE will be Aayan Afzal Khan, the youngest player at this World Cup. The 16-year-old from Sharjah had played a stellar role in UAE’s best showing in world cricket — a win in the plate final of the U-19 World Cup early this year.
Rubbing shoulders with the game’s greats at 16 is the stuff of dreams. And Khan is living it.
Afridi is back, but Bumrah is out
Not all stalwarts will be in Australia. The self-styled Universe Boss Chris Gayle from the West Indies is prominent among the galaxy of stars that have faded. So are other West Indian big-hitters Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell. Surely, it’s the end of an era in Caribbean cricket!
Injury has robbed the World Cup of some of the best in the business. England are without the fearsome talent of Jonny Bairstow and Jofra Archer. The Indian attack looks blunt in the absence of pace ace Jasprit Bumrah, while allrounder Ravindra Jadeja’s injury skewed the team’s balance. South Africa are bereft of injured Rassie van der Dussen and allrounder Dwaine Pretorius. Pakistan have breathed a sigh of relief with the return of speedster Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Do not despair. There’s ample talent to rock the stadiums in Australia, which offer a different cricketing experience. The steep bounce will have the pacers smacking their lips, so also the leg-spinners. The leggies will also want to toss the ball as the longer boundaries raise more chances of catches in the deep.
That makes for an even battle, unlike the docile pitches in the subcontinent that are graveyards for bowlers. Yet runs will come. After all, T20 is the name of the game. But, there will be fewer sixes and more threes due to bigger boundaries. This means 200-plus totals will be a rarity, and par scores could be considerably lower.
None of that will take the sheen off the World Cup. It sure will be thunder Down Under.
Closer home, Qatar is ready for the biggest sports extravaganza on Planet Earth — the Fifa World Cup. The world football fiesta brings the best and brightest to the region for the first time. And it wasn’t easy. It required a break in the European calendar to accommodate a winter World Cup in a desert country. That’s well worth the trouble. After all, football is a universal sport that should travel the globe.
When the world comes to Doha, the quadrennial tournament will bid farewell to two icons. Lionel Messi will be seen in Argentine colours for the last time, and Cristiano Ronaldo may have played his last game for Portugal. We are indeed fortunate to watch them parade their sublime skills.
A cricket World Cup and a football World Cup: that’s a veritable sporting feast. Grab the remote control, and be ready for the action.